Prep Cross Country Review and Preview: Goals in site for EHS boys' harriersThe Ellsworth boys cross-country team has enjoyed unprecedented success this season and would like to add to it with a state meet appearance.
By: Nick Gerhardt - Red Wing Republican-eagle, Pierce County Herald
The Ellsworth boys cross-country team has enjoyed unprecedented success this season and would like to add to it with a state meet appearance.
With a group of four core seniors and a group of juniors vying for the other spots in the lineup, the Panthers have had an incredible start to the season after winning their first conference championship in 44 years last fall.
Senior Ike Taplin advanced to the state meet last season and finished 22nd, but now he’d like the rest of the team to follow him to the state meet.
“It makes you feel good that you start out lower and throughout the years the same group of guys gets better and better and making your way to the top,” Taplin said.
Ellsworth cracked the state rankings last week as the 15th-ranked team in Division 2 for the first time in school history and won the Durand Invitational last week.
Panthers head coach Jon Dodge said it’s nice for the team to receive the recognition, but he’s downplaying the ranking.
“That can be sometimes a bit of a curse because they expect (to win),” Dodge said. “So I always tell them not to put a lot of stock into it because a lot of it is coaches voting and doesn’t really mean a lot.”
Ellsworth has depth in its top five runners, especially with the meteoric rise of senior Matt Priest. Priest has transformed into the team’s No. 1 runner this season in his second year on the varsity.
“He barely ran this summer and he comes out and he’s running mid-16s, which is just incredible,” Dodge said. “He really doesn’t know what his limitations are, he’s just beginning to scratch the surface.”
The talent was always there with Priest, even if he didn’t always see it. But his classmates saw his talent on display in gym class in his sophomore year and alerted Dodge. Priest ran a 5 minute, 40 second mile in gym class and had the fastest time in the class.
“I didn’t think I was that good,” Priest said.
Taplin admitted he didn’t know anything about Priest before he came out for cross-country and track, but now the two have become close friends.
“He’s opened up quite a bit since he first started,” Taplin said.
It’s helped that Priest has a natural ability for cross-country and Dodge hasn’t had to spend a lot of time teaching him.
With Priest’s emergence and Taplin’s continued strong running the Panthers have set their sights on more than a conference title this season. Five runners have turned in times under 18 minutes. Jaylen Pavloski, Lucas Green and Isaac Benek make up the top five for Ellsworth.
“We try to push each other in practice and at the meets,” Taplin said. “We’re all kind of around the same times so it makes it easier for competitiveness within the team to make us faster and stronger.”
Priest has led the team for every meet this season, but Taplin gives the Panthers a boost later in the season typically. Allergies affect Taplin early in the season, but once those disappear he finds another gear.
“Ike just came on real strong in the second half of the year,” Dodge said. “It’s like you’ve got a hidden weapon there.”
Ellsworth will need everyone at their best at the sectional meet Oct. 22 to have a shot at the state meet. The top two teams plus five individuals not on those top two teams qualify for state and the Panthers have one of the toughest sectionals in Wisconsin.
Three schools in Ellsworth’s sectional are state-ranked, including two in the top 10. Nekoosa/Port Edwards is ranked third, Aquinas is ranked fifth and Viroqua is ranked 15th as of this week. The Panthers finished fourth last year.
“Right now we’re right in the mix for the top four teams,” Dodge said. “We were on the outside looking in last year and this year everyone’s expecting us to be there.”
Ellsworth runs Oct. 4 at the Black River Falls Invitational.
Top seven times for boys' - 5000 meters
1). Cole Hauenstein - Prescott - 16:14
2). Matt Priest - Ellsworth - 16:25
3). Matt Pechacek - Prescott - 17:01
4). Jaylen Pavloski - Ellsworth - 17:22
4). Isaac Taplin - Ellsworth - 17:24
5). Nick Helberg - Prescott - 17:40
6). Lucas Green - Ellsworth - 18:11
7). Sam Mahaffey - Ellsworth - 18:13
Top seven times for girls' - 4000 meters
1). Breanna Colbenson - Spring Valley - 14:31
2). Victoria Simones - Prescott - 15:51.81
3). Sophie Koch - Spring Valley - 17:14
4). Emma Gaustad - Spring Valley - 17:22
5). Riley Bowman - Spring Valley - 17:26
6). Cassie Lofgren - Ellsworth - 17:28.19
7). Kennedy Kowalchyk - Ellsworth - 17:29.80